Along with the Cantiones Sacrae of the late sixteenth century, William Byrd’s two sets of Gradualia are a towering achievement of renaissance polyphony and epitomise the English style. Dedicated to Byrd’s patron Sir John Petre and the Catholic recusant community of which Byrd was a prominent member, the motets of the Gradualia are concise settings of the Proprium Missae for the major feasts of the church calendar.
The text of this piece describes God’s oversight of the Earth, and the music is expansive, drawing on the intervals of perfect fourths and fifths to create a sense of awe and majesty. The piece is in two sections, each led by the second trombone, which include overlapping sections of text. New textual ideas, delineated in the performance directions, should be clear in performance. The section marked declamatory is a special expression of the righteousness of God and an outpouring of joy, and the final Amen is a moment of great musical power.